Raise your virtual hand if you’ve ever heard that menopausal hormone therapy can cause cancer.
You’re not alone. There’s a reason you’ve heard this, even though it’s an outdated misconception. Here’s what happened…
Hormone therapy was first marketed for hot flashes, etc. in the early 1940s. Menopausal hormone therapy was traditionally used to treat perimenopausal and menopausal symptoms, like hot flashes, night sweats, disturbed sleep, vulvar and vaginally atrophy (now called Genitourinary Syndrome of Menopause), and dryness or pain with sexual activity.
During this same time, menopausal hormone therapy was also used to prevent disease, specifically, osteoporosis, heart attacks, aging skin, hair, and nails, for example.
But, in July 2002 something happened: the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), a project funded by the NIH, announced the results of an important clinical trial, and emphasized that all the benefits of hormone therapy were inadequate to compensate for the risks of the therapy.
This abrupt change in perception about menopausal hormone therapy, from mostly beneficial to mostly detrimental, spread like wildfire through both professional worlds and the worlds of women approaching menopause. The media attention was enormous and repeated hundreds of times.
Unfortunately, this information wasn’t quite accurate. The findings have now been largely discredited, especially for early menopausal women (i.e. women less than 60 years of age). For those women, hormones for perimenopause and menopause can be safe, and very helpful.
But, for too many years, we heard such a strong and emphatic, “No—menopausal hormones are dangerous drugs.” So much so that medical education systems stopped teaching any of the benefits of menopausal hormone therapy, and only taught that such therapy was risky and should not be used.
This situation persisted for approximately 15 years. And, as a result, two or more generations of physicians were trained with this (misinformed) information, and now that their patients are menopausal or need treatment for these symptoms or prevention of these disorders, these practitioners have no idea what treatments to provide. The medical education system still hasn’t caught up to this educational deficiency, and it may take many more years to do so.
So, if your doctor tells you that hormones for perimenopause or menopause are bad, you will know why, and you’re now armed with the information to push back, and get clarification specific to your situation. Feel free to point them to this memo from The North American Menopause Society, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, and The Endocrine Society.
We are also taking new patients, so give us a call to talk about options for your body when it comes to perimenopause and menopause symptoms, or to prevent menopausal disorders. We promise you don’t have to exist in discomfort.
Note: If you’ve had breast cancer or are considered high risk, please talk to your physician about whether hormone replacement therapy would be an option for you.